2016 Premier’s ANZAC Spirit School Prize Essay – Dr Phoebe Chapple



(31st March 1879 – 24th March 1967)

611280-167a99c6-a80d-11e4-8e5e-1a6448f35459Phoebe Chapple was born in Adelaide on the 31st March 1879, the youngest of eight children born to Frederic and Elizabeth Chapple (nee Hunter). Phoebe attended the Advanced School for Girls, later known as the Adelaide Girl’s High School. By the age of 16, she entered the University of Adelaide, gaining her Bachelor of Science in 1898. Chapple continued at the university, a decision inspired by Adelaide’s first female consulting doctor, Dr Violet Plummer, and went on to study medicine. Phoebe graduated as a doctor in 1904.

After finishing her studies, Phoebe became the house surgeon at the Adelaide Hospital and in 1906 was appointed Resident Medical Officer for the Sydney Medical Mission. In this job Phoebe charged very little payment, if any at all. Her schedule was always full and, understandably, it was very exhausting. Returning to Adelaide, Phoebe worked from Prince Alfred College, where her father was the headmaster. She became involved with women’s issues and in November 1912 gained a seat on the committee of the South Australian Women’s Refuge. Phoebe was also the Honorary Medical Superintendent of McBride’s Maternity Hospital from 1914 to 1923, with the exception of her war service years. Dr Chapple was always known for her professionalism and determination within her career.

When World War 1 (WW1) broke out in July 1914, femial doctors were not universally accepted within their careers. Similarly, the Army refused to appoint any roles to them. A gorup of femail Australian, including Pheobe, aged 38, became frustrated by their refusal. consequently, they travelled together to Europe in February 1917, determined to prove themselves and their medical skills. While Phoebe wanted to contribute, she stated in a newspaper upon her return,

“It was an anxiety, leaving my father and mother, but they, unselfishly, urged me to go – and I felt that the larger duty did call me overseas.”

Phoebe and the other female doctors found their way into various theatres of war, including in France, Belgium and Egypt. Upon arriving in England, Phoebe went to enlist in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) but instead found herself being appointed as surgeon to the Cambridge Hospital in Aldershot, with the honourary rank of Captain. Work conditions during this time were extremely harsh, with the hospital receiving casualties directly from the front line. Phoebe still described this time as a tremendous experience;

“I was in the surgical wards in charge of every variety of war ailment and wound. The convoys arrived continually from France, and more than 1,000 patients were accommodated at this busy centre.”

It was at this time that Phoebe’s work gained recognition and she was unofficially ranked as an officer.

Phoebe became part of the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) during her time in London, and although it was never intended, by November 1917 she had been sent to the Western Front – one of the first two women to serve there. In France, Phoebe found herself “in the centre of the battle zone,” with bomb threats and air raids taking place nightly. It was one of these nights, six months after being sent to France, that Officer Phoebe Chapple was significantly recognised for her actions and her display of the ANZAC Spirit.

ANZAC was the name given to the Australian and New Zealand men and women who came together and served as a part of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps; they are true heroes that are still remembered today. The ANZAC’s are especially remembered for the values they held and demonstrated, which together make up the ANZAC Spirit. Some of the qualities displayed include courage, endurance, good humour and mateship. The true spirit of the ANZAC’s was a willingness to sacrifice their lives for their country, their pride and their mates.

Dr Phoebe Chapple’s most recognised display of the ANZAC Spirit was shown on the night of May 29, 1918, eighteen months into her service. Phoebe was inspecting the QMAAC camp, which accommodated all of the women who were working in the British Hospital in Abbeville, France, when it came under aerial attack by German bombers. Three bombs were dropped in total. Two of them demolished huts while the third landed and exploded on a trench where women were sheltering. Of forty women, eight died immediately upon impact, and several others were injured, one of whom later died from wounds. The affects shattered the camp; in more ways than one.

Despite the difficulty of working in darkness, the lack of communication with headquarters due to severed lines, and also being the target of further raids, Phoebe made her way through the trenches to treat the sufferers, all while ignoring her own safety. Finally, at two o’clock in the morning, the administrator of the area called out the roll. One of the women present during this time wrote,

“Nobody who was there will ever forget the silence that was only broken by a little gasping sob from someone when when a name was called and not answered.”

On this night, many of the qualities that make up the ANZAC Spirit were demonstrated. Phoebe’s determination and perseverance were evidently shown. She worked for hours tending to those who needed help, never giving up. With the subsequent air raids, her bravery and consideration were also shown, with Phoebe putting the importance of others’ lives before hers, never giving in to panic. In an account of the night that Phoebe wrote more than two and a half years later, she stated, “I think when there are suffering and death at hand, fear absents ittself.” This shows that Phoebe never feared the potential outcomes of that night, and instead focused on saving the lives of those injured and suffering around her.

For her courage and dedication towards her work during the raid, Phoebe’s work was honoured with the Military Medal (MM); the first Australian to receive this prestigious award. The citation reads:

“For gallantry and devotion to duty during an enemy air raid. While the raid was in progress Doctor Chapple attended tot he needs of the wounded regardless of her own safety.”

Phoebe was extremely modest and surprised upon receiving the award, stating that she had “never looked at her work in that light.” Australia was delighted to hear of her achievement, but many became angered that she was not awarded the higher Military Cross, citing gender discrimination as a reason. As Phoebe was not a commissioned officer (as only men were eligible to be), she was ineligible to receive the Military Cross. The Military Medal was also only meant for males, but it was deemed the most appropriate for Phoebe’s actions and circumstances.

Demonstrations of the ANZAC Spirit, like that of Dr Phoebe Chapple’s, are still seen today. Many say that these traits are shown during situations not only in the present-day wars but also in everyday situations and times of crisis such as bush fires and floods. During hard times, Australians come together:

“To rescue one another, to ease the suffering, to provide food and shelter, to look after one another, and to let the victims of these disasters know they are not alone. the qualities are important in defining Australia as a nation.”

These qualities have become part of each Australian’s personality and this allows us to really see what the ANZAC Spirit was and is made of.

After the war ended, Phoebe returned to Australia where her work continued to impact the South Australian community. She returned home to Adelaide in 1919 where she resumed her practice on North Terrace, which later moved to her Norwood home where she continued until she was 85 years old. In late 1919, Phoebe ran in the municipal elections, supported by the Women’s Non-Party Association, where she was narrowly defeated. This did not stop her, however. Phoebe wanted to make a difference in the lives of many Australians. She became heavily involved in women’s issues again and was the one that broke down the barriers for female doctors and allowed them to become accepted within their careers. Phoebe would lead the nursing unit in the ANZAC Day march each year, showing how much she valued her war service. Phoebe passed away, unmarried, on 24th March 1967 (aged 88) and was cremated with full military honours. Her property was sold with part of the money being donated to St Ann’s College at the Adelaide University.

Dr Phoebe Chapple was strong, dedicated, determined, and her services were always completed with compassion and professionalism. She was and will always be an amazing woman.

Lest We Forget.


Read the PDF version of the essay below:

Dr Phoebe Chapple – Maddisen Kammermann